The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-America honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference — the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.
Next up: NC State
Class recap: Dave Doeren’s first signing class didn’t stand out in the rankings — No. 66 by ESPN’s math — but he did get some early contributions, even if it was as much out of necessity as ability. Matt Dayes played in all 12 games and scored four times. Jack Tocho started seven games at corner, finishing with 25 tackles and two picks. Monty Nelson started five games at defensive tackle and was second on the team with 8.5 sacks. Meanwhile, a bevy of freshmen receivers saw action, with mixed results.
Second-year star: WR Jumichael Ramos (6-foot-3, 197 pounds)
Recruiting stock: A three-star prospect out of Georgia, Ramos wasn’t even among NC State’s top signees at receiver (he was No. 191 overall at the position, according to ESPN), but he did bring both size and speed and showed increased development late in his high school career.
2013 in review: The Wolfpack’s offense was a mess throughout 2013, with rotating quarterbacks and offensive styles and, of course, a plethora of erratic receivers. But while several of the other first-year pass-catchers flashed early before disappearing down the stretch (either because of injury or inconsistency), Ramos consistently improved as the year progressed. He caught at least one pass in 10 of 12 games, and he finished the season with 11 receptions and three TDs in his final three contests, including a five-catch, 109-yard performance against Boston College. He finished the season with 24 receptions for 352 yards.
2014 potential: Projecting Ramos to be the breakout receiver among a horde of unproven talent is based largely off his strong finish to last season. The spring game was a showcase for an established veteran (Bryan Underwood) and an early enrollee (Bo Hines), while Ramos and fellow sophomore Marquez Valdes-Scantling played smaller parts. Still, the addition of Jacoby Brissett to stabilize the QB situation is good news for all of NC State’s receivers, and Ramos’ combination of speed and size should make him an inviting target. He’s got some stiff competition — in terms of both quantity and quality — throughout fall camp, but Doeren is looking for weapons in the passing game and Ramos has been the one young receiver who has shown he can be a weapon on game day.
Also watch for: Take your pick from the rest of the group of receivers. Valdes-Scantling needs maturity and consistency, and Johnathan Alston and Bra’Lon Cherry need to stay healthy to continue their development. Alston might have the biggest upside of the group. Keep an eye on Dayes getting a bigger role in the running game this season, while top signee Sean Paul shouldn’t be relegated to just special teams, as he was in 2013.